Although the vast majority of people documented by the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project as being injured or killed were employees of the various companies operating the railways, not all were. Some were contractors, doing specific jobs for the companies – the subject of a future post. And some were ‘persons on business’, who had a particular reason to be on railway company property but who weren’t employees of that company.
One of these cases occurred at Marple on the Midland and Great Central Joint Railway. [For those not familiar with the joint railways, these were routes which were operated by – as the name suggests – more than one company; often it was two companies working together, but it could be as many as four or five, which must have made for some interesting discussions and logistical arrangements!]
On 14 April 1914, at 7.55am, Charles Jackson fell from a wagon and broke his leg. Jackson was employed by Mr S Bowden, the local coal merchant; at this point the main means of distributing coal to local users in the UK was via the railway system, to the station nearest the end user. From those stations, local carriers or coal merchants would collect the coal and distribute it to their customers. In much the same way, any business sending or collecting goods by rail would have meant a representative of that business had reason to enter a railway goods yard.
Getting the coal out of a railway wagon was a mucky and labour intensive task. Wagons had drop down doors on either side; once opened up, coal could be shovelled out. On this occasion, Jackson and another labourer (Arthur Close) were using the drop-down door of the wagon as a platform on which to stand. To do this, they had – contrary to the rules – propped the door up with a piece of wood. As the inspector, Amos Ford, described it ‘even if the propping of doors was allowed the wood [used] was very unsuitable for such a purpose’ given it was ‘about one inch in thickness, four inches wide at one end, narrowing to almost a point at the other’.
It will come as no surprise, perhaps, to read that the piece of wood broke, the door fell, and both men were thrown to the ground. Interestingly – enlightened thinking, possibly – Jackson was not blamed: instead his employer, Bowden, was identified as the blame-worthy party. Presumably he had supplied the wood, or at least was aware that this rule-breaking practice was going on, and being in a position of authority over the two labourers, was deemed that he should have stopped them.
From this brief report – it is one of the ‘Appendix C’ reports, so barely more than 10 lines long) – we also get insight into accident prevention techniques in use at Marple. It notes that ‘The Joint Committee [managing the company] have posted notices about the yard forbidding the use of props for the support of waggon-doors, and Mr Bowden has repeatedly been warned against it. The request was again strongly pressed the day previous to my inquiry’. However – one of the most interesting things about this case, I feel, as it gives us an insight into how people thought and acted on the ground – Bowden was unrepentant, despite the harm propping had caused. Inspector Ford continued: ‘when I visited the yard [in the course of the inquiry] it was still being done, and Mr Bowden and his two sons […] declared that they would continue to use props’ (1914 Quarter 2, Appendix C).
What could be done about this dangerous practice? Ford couldn’t say, beyond the recommendation that ‘for future safety the Joint Committee should take other steps to prevent the practice’ – a suitably vague reprimand to the company.